Professor Perspectives on COVID-19 Course Adaptations

By Vanessa Willis, Staff Writer

When The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga officially moved fully online last spring due to COVID-19, professors were in a time crunch to transition their course content into an online format.

Five months later, things have changed even more, with some classes sticking to the online format and others attempting hybrid or face-to-face learning. 

Although members of the campus community of every kind have had to adapt to this new reality, students may not be familiar with how this transitional process looked for professors.  

Communications Department professor, James Tanner, teaches Media Writing I and Introduction to Publication Design, which is now a fully online course. 

“I am attempting to teach in a hybrid format with one meeting each week plus some online work and online meetings with individual students,” Tanner said. 

According to Tanner, that the university has not pressured professors to format their classes in any particular way. Instead, he responded to the needs of his students by acknowledging that lecturing and in-person interaction is very important to some learners. 

“It would have been easy to just say that I am going to put my writing class online,” he said, “but I have tried hard to develop a course that can give students some of the classroom environment as much as I can.” 

Chief Development Officer of Northside Neighborhood House, Chris Berryman, is an adjunct professor who teaches Nonprofit Fundraising. Since he felt this class could be taught in any format, he asked his department to make a choice for him, and they decided that his class should be hybrid. He then began to redesign the curriculum of the course.

“I first went back through the textbook and my syllabus to determine in what areas I could most readily adapt to an online virtual classroom,” Berryman said. “I then factored in if there were alternative ways to communicate the information outside of in-person small group work. While our online teaching software allows for group assignments, I really wanted to minimize the stress on my students, as I knew we’d all be learning this online approach together.”

Chandler Harriss teaches Mass Communication Perspectives, a class that was taught hybrid last spring and is now fully online.

“Sometimes folks assume teaching online is easier or less time-consuming, or even less valuable for students,” Harriss said.  “I have found none of these assumptions to be universally true. In fact, I often feel that I connect with individual students more frequently in online environments.” 

Harriss said that professors have been given adequate support from the university during this transitional time through the Walker Center for Teaching and Learning. The Walker Center strives to promote teaching that involves students and promotes their success. 

“I am just happy I have a job I can do, and do well, remotely,” Harriss said. “I look forward to a time when it is safe for everyone to return to the classroom.” 

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